Coronavirus updates: Donald Trump says US ‘China Virus’ data exaggerated; Dr. Anthony Fauci protests, draws president’s wrath

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Correction: An earlier version of this blog misidentified the population of India. The population is about 1.3 billion people.

In the headlines:

► The number of “China Virus” cases and deaths in the U.S. are “far exaggerated,” President Donald Trump said on Twitter. He cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s methodology. “When in doubt, call it Covid. Fake News!” Trump said.

►Even as transmissions spike across the nation, U.S. air travel hit its highest level on Saturday since mid-March, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

► Funeral homes in Southern California say they are turning away grieving families as they run out of space with bodies piling up. One funeral home is averaging six times its normal rate, or about 30 body removals a day. The head of the California Funeral Directors Association says mortuaries are being “inundated.”

► Former talk show host Larry King, 87, has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, CNN reported. Citing an unidentified person close to the family, CNN said King is undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

► New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state has surpassed 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, joining California, Texas and Florida.

► Bars and restaurants across Wyoming will be allowed to return to normal operating hours beginning Jan. 9, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Saturday.

► Vaccine rollout in the U.S. is still ramping up, and just over 4 million people have received a first dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

► Hospitals struggling to provide enough oxygen for the sickest coronavirus patients in the Los Angeles area received some relief Saturday when U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews arrived. California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office says crews helped some aging hospitals update their oxygen delivery systems.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 20.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 351,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 85 million cases and 1.84 million deaths.

What we’re reading: COVID-19 meant these schools took free lunch to students. What teachers saw surprised them.

Trump says COVID data ‘far exaggerated’; Fauci protests

The nation’s top infectious disease expert on Sunday dismissed claims tweeted by President Donald Trump that coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S. are exaggerated and “Fake News.”

Anthony Fauci, speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, said anyone who went into the “trenches” – intensive care units at hospitals across the nation – will quickly realize how severe the virus is. He called the statistics “real numbers, real people and real deaths.”

Trump shot back on Twitter: “Something how Dr. Fauci is revered by the LameStream Media as such a great professional, having done, they say, such an incredible job, yet he works for me and the Trump Administration, and I am in no way given any credit for my work. Gee, could this just be more Fake News?”

India approves 2 vaccines not yet authorized by US FDA

India approved emergency use of two vaccines not yet authorized by the U.S. – from AstraZeneca and from local firm Bharat Biotech – as it plans to inoculate 300 million people this year. India has the second-highest number of infections in the world: more than 10.3 million confirmed cases. Nearly 150,000 people have died. India, with 1.3 billion people the world’s second-most populated country, held nationwide drills Saturday to prepare more than 90,000 health care workers to administer vaccines.

“We express our gratitude to the doctors, medical professionals, scientists, policemen and all corona warriors for their exceptional service in adverse conditions,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.

US vaccinations fall far short of December goals

The U.S. fell far short of the goal of vaccinating 20 million front-line workers and the elderly in December, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The CDC says about 4.2 million people received the first of two required doses as of Jan. 2. More than 13 million doses were distributed across the nation.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a Twitter post Saturday that the city has distributed more than 95% of the vaccine doses it has received, but “at the current rate of dose allocation from the federal government, it would take 71 weeks – nearly one and a half years – to fully vaccinate the entire city.”

More contagious COVID strain ID’d in 3 states, 33 countries

At least three U.S. states – California, Colorado and Florida – and 33 countries have identified a more contagious coronavirus variant, known as B.1.1.7.

Several nations have also identified an additional variant, first identified in South Africa, that also appears to infect people more easily.

“Because the variants spread more rapidly, they could lead to more cases and put even more strain on our heavily burdened health care systems,” said Dr. Henry Walke, incident manager for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 response. “We need to be even more vigilant in our prevention measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

– Grace Hauck

California funeral homes run out of space as COVID-19 rages

As communities across the country feel the pain of a surge in coronavirus cases, funeral homes in the hot spot of Southern California say they must turn away grieving families as they run out of space for the bodies piling up.

“I’ve been in the funeral industry for 40 years and never in my life did I think that this could happen, that I’d have to tell a family, ‘No, we can’t take your family member,’” said Magda Maldonado, owner of Continental Funeral Home in Los Angeles.

Continental is averaging about 30 body removals a day – six times its normal rate. Mortuary owners are calling one another to see whether anyone can handle overflow, and the answer is always the same: They’re full, too.

In order to keep up with the flood of bodies, Maldonado has rented extra 50-foot (15-meter) refrigerators for two of the four facilities she runs in LA and surrounding counties. Continental has also been delaying pickups at hospitals for a day or two while they deal with residential clients.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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